Government Silently Springs Green Economy Plans

An impressive blueprint for a green economy has sneaked out, but without overt political backing will anyone take note, asks Eric Doyle

Has anyone heard details of the government’s vision for the green economy? There’s plenty of information out there but the departmental work of Defra, DECC and BIS is consistently kept in the shade, only occasionally seeing the sun when a ray of controversy strikes their efforts.

The UK government said it wants to be the greenest yet but it is failing to promote its credentials. A case in point is its major posting of a manifesto for sustainability in business, Enabling the Transition to a Green Economy.

A Whisper Of An Idea

The report forms the core of the coalition’s initiative to set UK firms on the path to a greener future but it appeared without fanfare: no press release, major speeches or media briefings. Only keen watchers of the Business Link website may have picked up the arrival of the nested collection of advisory documents that were posted over a week ago.

The site itself says, “It is the government’s response to requests from the private sector for greater clarity on what government means by a ‘green economy’, the policies being put in place to achieve this and how they come together” – but why whisper a message that should be shouted from the rooftops?

As a service to the government, let me do some of the shouting instead.

The report is actually a suite of documents addressing the government’s vision, a detailed timeline, advice for SMEs and a clutch of three case studies. It is supported by six new enablement tracts detailing the overarching framework (on its own a worthy cause to celebrate), a structured approach to climate change and atmospheric emissions, the outline of a “resource smart” economy, the keys to unlocking green growth, and two final expositions on the opportunities for and challenges to businesses.

The collection of advice and help is coherent, simply-stated and could fire up many businesses into acting early rather than waiting till 2020 is upon us and the recycled waste hits the fan.

GB – Government And Business

If we are to meet our part of the European planet-saving aims, it is essential to recruit business to do their bit voluntarily. Legislation plays its part but is looked on as a necessary evil, by the government, and just evil by the “legislatees”. Every announcement of a new regulation is greeted with yelps of pain from the private sector and cries of “stealth tax”.

The advice given is well-rounded and, if it had an audio track, parts of it would be accompanied by the sound of a classroom full of grannies slurping on eggs, but it is necessary to state the sucking obvious to keep the big picture in focus.

This widescreen, technicolor vision focuses down on a single message: government and business can only achieve the aims of a green economy by working together.

A key move towards this was the formation of the Green Economy Council last February. This has brought together ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) with 23 business leaders. Company representatives on this panel include those from Centrica, the Chamber of Commerce, Ford, IBM, Siemens, Tata Steel and the Trades Union Council.

The Council meets every three months to discuss measures that could be adopted to bring about the country’s low carbon aims. Some of the membership are controversially heavy polluters, and Syngenta is committed to developing genetically modified crops, so the environmentalists have been critical of some of the choices.

A Taxing Challenge

The report outlines several ways in which the sustainable future will be achieved but there seems to be a slight conflict that will cause a hubbub in the business world.

The comforting affirmation that “The government will work to ensure that the system of environmental regulation is effective, proportionate, coherent, clear and implemented in a way that minimises burdens on businesses, in line with the principles of better regulation” is somewhat counterbalanced a couple of sections later.

Under the subheading of Fiscal Measures, it reads: “Fiscal measures, such as environmental taxes, can be effective in driving change. They can, for example, work to discourage damaging environmental behaviours (e.g. Climate Change Levy, Landfill tax, carbon floor price); incentivise environmentally-friendly products (e.g. Vehicle Excise Duty) and energy efficiency (e.g. Climate Change Agreements; Enhanced Capital Allowances). To support de-carbonisation and provide certainty for investors on the carbon price, a carbon floor price was announced in Budget 2011.”

Darkly, this is followed by: “The government will increase the proportion of tax revenue accounted for by environmental taxes targeting measures to maximise opportunities for green growth in the UK.”

As yet, the prime minister and the Treasury have yet to endorse or comment upon the report and only then will we know how fast and how deep this plunge into the tax revenue pool will be.

Beyond this, we now have a fairly sound framework. The green ship of state has left its moorings, set its direction but it still has a few details to fill in before the flotilla of merchant ships fall in behind with any confidence.